As I’ve documented in previous articles, we’ve had a bit of public unrest here in staid Harrisonburg, VA over the past year. Whether we’re discussing the Springfest fiasco of 2010 or the recent collapse of a 3rd story apartment that was so full of dancing students that it crashed through to the bottom floor, the opinions I’ve expressed have fairly well followed that of other adults my age: an appreciation for youth and fun followed by a sense of concern for the general lawlessness, or even common sense, demonstrated by the participants.
I even went so far to report and remark on a “small” city ordinance change that shifted the onus of reporting property trespass from that of property-owners only to allow for the recognition of such by the police as well. In other words, instead of a police officer looking blankly at a sleepless apartment tenant and declaring that, “No,” he or she could decidedly not ask the two hundred people in the adjacent apartment to depart as the apartment is “private property” and thus out of their hands, the same officer could actually utilize their trained powers of observation to ascertain that “Yes,” perhaps some form of property trespass was happening at that very moment and act accordingly.
There have been hours and hours of public and private debate devoted to determining “how” an annual college party morphed into a full-fledged riot. Today, I unfortunately was an unwilling participant in a simple issue of “trespass” that illustrated to me how one police officer’s decision to act, or not to, could have significant implications to those involved.
I’ve praised our lakeside condo at every opportunity. One of its wonderful features is the privacy it affords despite the density of the area. Our driveway is invisible from the street: it dips so quickly after the façade of the condo that it seems more of a boat ramp. It is only at the back of the building that you see the two vehicle-sized paved area to the left and a covered porch to the right.
We awoke this morning to an SUV with NJ plates tucked snugly between our car and the stone retaining wall. No note on it or the front door. We know no one in NJ. We were expecting no guests. I called the police. I did so because of the reasons cited above and further, I did not feel comfortable leaving our house – so private and thus easily burglarized – with a strange car in the driveway.
The officer who responded was supremely indifferent. He assured me that aside from calling in the plates to see if the SUV was stolen, that his hands were tied as the vehicle was on private property. I mentioned the change in the city’s ordinance and was told it wasn’t applicable.
I called for a tow. The tow truck driver apologized for his telephone demeanor when he got out of the cab of his truck. “I see what you mean,” he said, “You can’t exactly find this place by accident.”
As I scored the ballgame an hour later, the tow company called. The SUV owners were protesting the fee, alleging that our parking space was public and available for “guest” use. The condo’s owner had to be contacted to confirm our stance. Case closed.
But what might have happened had the drivers been in our driveway instead of just the car? What if they’d been drinking? How might they retaliate against us for calling the? What might they feel entitled to do after the police left without taking any action at all?